Mediterranean Diet Recipes: Polenta Side Dishes

Polenta is cooked cornmeal, which historically was used in the Mediterranean by the peasants as mush. Now, however, many upscale restaurants all along the Mediterranean coast (not to mention in the United States) use it, which we’re sure would surprise many peasants. Polenta provides a great whole grain that has a sweet flavor and works in a lot of applications.

Basic Polenta

Prep time: 5 minutes, plus 1 hour chilling time

Cook time: 20 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Nonstick cooking spray

6 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

1-3/4 cups instant polenta

1 tablespoon butter

  1. Coat an 8-x-11-inch glass baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

  2. In a 4-quart saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add in 1 teaspoon of salt and gradually whisk in the polenta. Reduce the heat to low.

  3. Whisking continuously, cook the polenta until thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until melted.

  4. Pour the polenta into the baking pan and level with a straight-edged spatula. Place the polenta into the refrigerator for at least one hour to cool before using in another recipe or baking/frying to eat on its own.

Per serving: Calories 204 (From Fat 21); Fat 2g (Saturated 1g); Cholesterol 4mg; Sodium 741mg; Carbohydrate 41g (Dietary Fiber 2g); Protein 4g.

You can serve this basic polenta recipe with sautéed veggies or different types of cheese. You can also smother baked polenta with sauces such as the Marinara, Pesto, or Chickpea Sauce.

Grilled Polenta with Gorgonzola

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 14 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

1 batch Basic Polenta

2 tablespoons olive oil, or olive oil cooking spray

1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

  1. With a sharp knife score, the polenta into triangle wedges.

  2. Heat a grill pan until it’s smoking or heat a grill to medium-high heat. Brush one side of the polenta wedge with olive oil or lightly spray with olive oil cooking spray.

  3. Grill the polenta in batches, leaving it alone until it has grill marks, about 5 minutes.

  4. Drop the heat to medium, carefully flip the polenta, and continue to grill for 8 minutes. Transfer to a warm platter, top with the cheese crumbles, and serve.

Per serving: Calories 289 (From Fat 99); Fat 11g (Saturated 5g); Cholesterol 18mg; Sodium 890mg; Carbohydrate 41g (Dietary Fiber 2g); Protein 6g.

You can replace the Gorgonzola with another blue cheese, goat cheese, or feta, depending on what type of flavor you enjoy. You can also try topping the grilled polenta with Parmesan or mozzarella and broiling them for 4 minutes to melt the cheese.

Pan-Fried Polenta with Prosciutto and Parmesan

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

1 batch Basic Polenta

1/2 cup flour

1/3 cup grapeseed or canola oil

1/2 pound prosciutto, thinly sliced

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Heat the oven to broil. With a sharp knife, score the polenta into triangle wedges.

  2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Lightly dust each polenta wedge with flour and fry for 6 minutes on each side or until lightly browned.

  3. Immediately drain the fried polenta on paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Place the drained polenta onto a baking sheet.

  4. Top each polenta wedge polenta with prosciutto and 1 teaspoon of the cheese. Broil them in the oven for 4 minutes or until the cheese is slightly browned. Serve immediately.

Per serving: Calories 413 (From Fat 159); Fat 18g (Saturated 5g); Cholesterol 37mg; Sodium 1632mg; Carbohydrate 47g (Dietary Fiber 2g); Protein 15g.

You know your oil is ready when it fries a one-inch cube of bread. If the bread sinks and takes in oil, your oil isn’t hot enough.

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